TNG Vol. 18 Chapter 3 Part 5
The next day, Shin’s party moved out at dawn.
In Number 43’s territory, there was no area that could be considered safe.
Using Tsuki no Hokora’s 【Barrier】 and 【Barricade】, together with the party’s defensive abilities, they could probably spend the night safely even there, but Shin was sure they would be attacked during the night.
He planned to cover as much distance as possible during the day and reach the Sacred Place as soon as possible.
“We’ll enter the volcanic area soon. Is your equipment ready and working, guys?”
All members replied positively. They were all wearing the additional accessories and short mantles, ready to fight at any time.
The short mantle was the 【Mantle of Searing Flames】, gear equipped with anti-heat properties. Shin had added heat resistance to the mantle’s innate properties, providing double protection against the heat.
Shin checked his own equipment too, then stepped out of the sea of trees.
They were going to move on foot, like they did in the forest. Only Sety and Tiera were a little different: since the terrain was flat, Sety used her specialty, magic-powered high-speed movement. Kagerou wanted Tiera to ride him, so she got on his back and used the chance to scan the surroundings for any threats.
“This is just the beginning, I guess”
In the area adjacent to the sea of trees, the ground was charred black, burning here and there. For a high-temperature area, it was still pretty mild: thanks to the equipment, the party still felt cool.
A single spot, however, was bright red, clearly much hotter than the surroundings. They couldn’t be sure that something was there, but it stood out too much for it to mean nothing.
Shin’s party shifted their course slightly in order to check the spot, which grew larger as they approached it. Soon, they realized it resembled a human torso.
“So that’s one of the Lava Giants they talked about? It really looks like someone smashed putty together to make a person…”
The head had no facial features, just lights blinking red and black. It was approximately 4 mel tall.
—— Red Mound Level 373
【Analysis】 showed the official name and level of the Lava Giant. Shin and the others did not recall ever seeing such a monster, but its data was available.
“The level is lower than expected. I guess it’s dangerous enough if you have a bad affinity, though.”
The Warhunds were over level 500, but few of the other monsters they saw in the sea of trees had a level higher than them. Considering the affinity and difference in size, the Red Mound would be a troublesome opponent. If the sea of trees monsters had to face multiple of them at the same time, they would surely have a very hard time.
“Okay then, let’s see what I can do.”
Sety was already prepared: she used a Skill on the Red Mound.
A gigantic ball of water appeared over the monster’s head, then flew in its direction with the speed of a flying arrow.
The Red Mound raised its arms, probably in defense, but the water ball scattered before it could do anything.
Water-type Magic Skill 【Giga Splash】
The large water ball split into numerous smaller spheres of various sizes, which rained on the Red Mound. The smaller ones measured about 20 cemel, while the larger ones were as wide as 60 cemel.
Normally, a Magician’s water ball impact amounted to an adult male’s full-power punch if it was small or being run over by a horse carriage if it was large.
The force of impact of Sety’s water balls was clearly shown by the Red Mound’s body, now riddled with holes.
The monster’s four-mel body was not for show: it had as much mass as its appearance suggested and defense befitting its level; its half-liquid nature also granted it considerable flexibility. It had all these traits, and yet…
The scattered water balls literally punched holes through its defense.
The monster’s core had been probably destroyed as well: its arms still stretched, the Red Mound fell forward and melted into the ground. The terrain sizzled as smoke rose in the air, but there was no sign of resurrection.
“…well, it was around level 300, I guess this is normal…”
“Right. We might find higher-level ones ahead.”
It was all over very quickly. Sety, who had prepared to give her best in battle, felt deflated.
Milt’s Water Spirit too was standing by in a lance-like form, but had no chance to join in the fray and looked rather dejected.
A short while later, the former Red Mound turned gradually darker and darker, until it became a charred black mass.
Since its appearance barely changed after it was defeated, they thought it might come back to life, but that did not seem to be the case.
“Hey, do you think the Sacred Place could have completely turned into magma? And we’re going to have to face a horde of these things.”
“Yeah, it’s possible. There were magma fields in the game too, anyway. We’ve made preparations, so it’s not like we’ll end up swimming in it out of the blue.”
Unlike the sand sea, magma did not have the ability to suck in careless trespassers.
Shin did not know how it acted in real life, but he knew how it worked in THE NEW GATE world well enough. He also asked Schnee in advance, to be sure.
“Looks like there’s fighting elsewhere too.”
“I wonder if this guy strayed from the pack?”
Prompted by Shin’s comment, Shin turned around and focused on the fighting presences.
He scanned the area using the Red Mound’s presence as base: there were similar presences not only on their path, but also behind them. They were still close to the sea of trees, so it was not difficult to detect their movements.
The Red Mounds attacking the sea of trees were always in groups of 3 or 4: the one Shin’s party just defeated was probably part of such a group.
They couldn’t go back to provide support, however, so they proceeded while focusing only on the presences ahead of them.
“They don’t come out unless you get close enough, it seems.”
“Judging from the presences, I think you’re right.”
On the path of Shin’s party there were multiple magma spots, just like where they found the Red Mound.
Once they were close enough they took human shape and attacked, but as long as the party was far enough they could pass them without anything happening. In human form, they could move, albeit slightly, but they did not seem to be closing in on the party.
“They’re becoming more numerous.”
“I guess it means the Sacred Place is closer. It’s strange that they aren’t increasing in level, though.”
At the pace the party was advancing, they were going to reach the Sacred Place in about one day and a half. They hadn’t covered half the distance yet.
They defeated all monsters they couldn’t avoid, but their levels were still only around 400.
It was a serious threat by the standards of this world, but for Shin’s party they were just fodder for Sety’s Water magic.
“It’s always the same monsters, is this their strategy?”
“The Guardian should be able to choose which monsters to create, so I guess it’s on purpose. It does feel strange though.”
The monsters that appeared on the continent, which Shin’s party fought against alongside the Empire forces and the Church Warband, were of three types: the shapeshifter type monsters led by Gelganger, four-legged beast types, and insect types.
Moreover, if Number 37 had spoken the truth, and had really never attacked Eleven, the Arahabaki Guardian should be able to spawn Plant-type monsters as well. Yet the party had encountered nothing but Red Mounds.
The Red Mounds only seemed to be scattered at random, not to send in invading missions.
Filma voiced her doubts and Shibaid tried to find an answer, but he found it suspicious as well. He cast a sharp glare at the Red Mounds.
Afterward, the party’s advance became truly uneventful.
They fought against the Red Mounds more frequently, but they all fell with a single Water spell from Sety. They rarely had to stop to fight.
Shin wanted to advance as much as possible that day, so it wasn’t a bad situation at all, but he found it strange that there didn’t seem to be any reaction to their “intrusion”.
“The Guardians are supposed to see me as a top priority target…but I wonder if this one is different too.”
“The boss here pretended to be a different Guardian, right? Maybe it’s not tied down by the same rules as the others, like Eleven.”
A Red Mound appears, the party slows down, Sety fires a spell, they accelerate again.
It was starting to become a routine, much to Sety’s boredom.
“It’s not going to try to negotiate, is it?”
“I honestly don’t know if it’s serious about the invasion thing, but it’s clear that it’s the one attacking. I doubt we’ll get out of this peacefully. According to Number 37, Number 43 was the one behind the monsters’ invasion of the continent. If that’s true, it is definitely targeting me. Even if it says they didn’t plan to actually kill me, there’s no way I can believe it.”
Both Heltoros and Selcikeus clearly saw Shin as a target to eliminate.
Which was not unusual, considering the Guardians’ motivations. But attacking other Guardians clearly showed there was something irregular going on. Shin did not expect the Arahabaki Guardian to propose negotiations.
“Besides — hmm? What’s that?”
Halfway through his sentence, Shin spotted something in the wasteland. It was a red pillar, clearly visible in the distance.
He checked it again with 【Clairvoyance】: the red pillar was semi-transparent and housed a core colored red and black, as if it was made of coagulated blood.
The pillar had vein-like strings running over it, from which the Red Mounds seemed to be generated.
“So the magic power isn’t flowing naturally, that thing is creating them. I don’t remember ever seeing that monster, though.”
“I don’t know each and every monster either…and I’ve never seen the Red Mounds in the game.”
Shin shook his head to Milt’s question. He thought he knew most of THE NEW GATE’s monsters, but could not recall anything like that.
There were monsters he knew even though he had never encountered one, but that was not one of those either. It was a completely unknown monster.
“I have never seen anything like that either. What about everyone else?”
No one replied positively to Schnee’s question.
Filma, who had been sealed for a long period, and Sety and Tiera, who had lived in a secluded area, could be excused: but not even the long-living and experienced Schnee and Shibaid knew anything.
“Well, let’s use the same strategy, have Sety attack first and see what happens. Doesn’t look like it will let us through anyway.”
The unknown monster’s presence was different from the Red Mounds the party fought until then. It was much more clear and intense than the Red Mounds’ faint, ambiguous presence.
Maybe it had detected the party’s approach: three eye-like patterns appeared on the surface of the red pillar. The left and right eye patterns opened: not only the eyes, however, but the very pattern moved up and down.
“It’s kinda creepy.”
“Couldn’t agree more.”
The red and black core of the pillar was not dissimilar to a heart. The eye-like organs appeared strangely realistic, which did not give a pleasant impression.
After darting glances left and right, the eyes spotted Shin’s party and fixated on it.
As they came closer, the pillar’s actual size became clear. It was about 6 mel tall and 3 mel wide.
The eyes turned completely still once they found Shin, with unsettling effects.
“Hey, there’s more.”
Before the inevitable battle, Shin scanned the surroundings while expanding his 【Clairvoyance】 radius to the maximum: he then found other pillars similar to the one in front of them.
Thanks to his boosted stats, his detection range was wider too: he could spot several other pillars. While he couldn’t actually see them, his detection skills also found many other presences.
“Well, it’s trying to take over the sea of trees, no way there was only one of these.”
Filma’s assessment was spot on.
The invading monsters attacked only the western side of the forest, but it was an area much wider than the original Sacred Place.
The pillar was continuing to produce Red Mounds, but just one could not provide enough “manpower” for the invasion to succeed.
“I have found two more pillars. What about you, Shin?”
“Four here. Two beyond this one, then one each in the east and west. The ones ahead seem to be farther away than the ones on the right and left. If we count the areas I can’t actually see, there’s more. That’s probably the Sacred Place’s defensive barrier.”
Shin checked the map and saw that the monsters were located at fixed intervals from the Sacred Place.
It looked just like the defensive trenches small villages set up in order to protect themselves from monsters or bandits.
If they had ropes or similar objects tied between them, they would look exactly the same, but there did not seem to be anything of the sort.
—— Red Core Pillar Level 700
Once they were closer, 【Analyze】 displayed the monster’s name, though Shin had never heard of it. He asked Schnee and the others, but their reaction was the same.
“I guess we can only try hitting it once and see what happens. Keep your guard up, everybody.”
They had to fight it if they wanted to know what attacks it used. Shin wanted to take care of the situation as quickly as possible, but they weren’t exactly on a timer: they wouldn’t rush ahead recklessly.
If the monster had really high defense and took a long time to defeat, could revive itself indefinitely, or had any other unexpected abilities, they would fall back and come up with a new strategy. They had enough time for that.
They were in the territory controlled by Number 43: there might be other monsters besides the one in front of them. They had to watch out for threats coming from any direction.
“I’ll go first, then.”
Sety shot 【Giga Splash】 at the Red Core Pillar, the same spell which had buried so many Red Mounds until then.
They were still too far for even sniping skills to reach the monster, but Sety’s 【Giga Splash】 naturally had a longer range than normal. The water ball drew an arc in the air, just like a cannonball, heading straight for the Red Core Pillar.
The water projectile, however, was intercepted and annihilated by a burning hot beam released by the eyed monster.
“Hmm, it’s different from the magma the Red Mounds could spit out.”
“It looks just like a concentration of Flame magic. Another 50 mel and we’ll be in range, I think.”
Among the Red Mounds defeated by Shin’s party, some used attacks that coincided with what the Warhunds said.
These attacks were close to a shot of pressured liquid, like a water gun. The Red Core Pillar’s beam, however, was completely different, both in offensive power and appearance.
Even if her spell was neutralized, Sety was unfazed. She shot more water balls, in order to analyze the range, offensive power and frequency of the monster’s attack.
Tiera used a skill that split her arrows in many smaller ones, to assist in the analysis.
”I don’t know if that’s its full power, but Shibaid’s shield can take it no problem. I say we go on like this while I keep shooting 【Giga Splash】.”
Shibaid nodded to Sety’s proposal.
Just in case, Shin took out three small teardrop-shaped shields from the item box. He equipped one and gave the other two to Schnee and Milt.
Their range was smaller than Shibaid’s 『Great Shell Shield of Collision』, but they could create a protective barrier.
In case they had to quickly cover the other party members, the shields would be more useful than their gauntlets or weapons. They could not discard the possibility of the closest Red Core Pillar’s attacks reaching them.
“The beams are getting stronger and faster as we get closer. Stay on your guard!”
The party was now about 500 mel from the Red Core Pillar.
At first, it used multiple beams to pierce Sety’s water spheres over the span of several seconds, but now — while the number of beams fired at the same time did not change — the beams could pierce the water spheres on impact. It could manage even if Sety increased the number of water spheres.
Tiera shot arrows and Milt spear attacks through her Water Spirit, but they were all shot down by smaller beams.
The Red Core Pillar shot the beams from its eye-like patterns, but each pattern could shoot multiple beams.
“Can you leave this to Shibaid and me?”
“Yeah, you’re the best for this. Go ahead.”
Shin nodded to Filma.
In order to break down a sturdy barrier, a forceful blow from a blunt weapon was ideal. While their types were different, Filma’s 『Scarlet Moon』 and Shibaid’s 『Placid Moon』 could both smash as they cut their target, thanks to their mass.
They were also much more resilient than high-class blunt weapons, so Shin entrusted such situations to them.
After Filma gave the signal, Shibaid accelerated too. As they jumped ahead, the beams immediately concentrated on them.
“Bring it on!!”
They reacted with the exact same timing.
Filma dodged the beams, running in a zig-zag pattern. She sometimes jumped over them, using her armor’s magic power expulsion function to change directions in midair.
Shibaid, on the other hand, rushed straight towards the Red Core Pillar, holding his 『Great Shell Shield of Collision』 in front.
The beams hit him head-on, but were all deflected: he could proceed on the shortest route to the target without slowing down.
As the beams concentrated on the two, Sety’s water spheres and arrows were left unattended.
The water spheres burst in front of the Red Core Pillar, damaging its barrier.
Dull sounds of hammers striking metal resounded in the surroundings. After one, two blows, a static noise-like pattern ran across the monster’s surface.
There, the arrows and water spears struck. They couldn’t fully pierce through the pillar, but took advantage of their numbers to wear the barrier down.
Maybe because of the accumulating damage, the number of beams gradually decreased. Filma and Shibaid did not miss the opportunity to close in on the monster.
Both of their weapons started glowing.
Filma’s was red, Shibaid green. The Red Core Pillar did not seem to have any ways to defend itself at close range: Shibaid struck first with a vertical slash from his『Placid Moon』 as if scooping the pillar upwards.
Axe-type Martial Skill 【Steel Splitter】.
A full swing of 『Placid Moon』, accompanied by the sound of glass shattering. A green arc was drawn in the air, ripping through the monster’s barrier.
【Steel Splitter】 increased in damage according to the target’s defense and caused additional damage to carapace and armor.
Pairing it with Shibaid’s arm strength and the offensive power of 『Placid Moon』 resulted in the destruction of more than 70% of Red Core Pillar’s barrier.
And it was Filma’s turn.
She acted after Shibaid because she trusted him to cause that much damage. 『Scarlet Moon』 swung down on the monster’s exposed body.
Sword-type Martial Skill 【Core Hunter】.
From their battles against the Red Mounds, Shin’s party had learned that they were susceptible to attacks effective against Mineral-type monsters. It was likely that the Red Core Pillar, their creator, shared the same characteristic: hence Filma chose this Skill.
The monster created another barrier, probably as a final struggle, but it was smaller and much weaker than the one Shibaid shattered.
Filma’s 『Scarlet Moon』 cleaved the Red Core Pillar in half, semi-transparent barrier and all.
The severed half fell on the ground. After a little while, it turned black.
“…looks like it’s not coming back to life.”
Shibaid, his weapon still at the ready, made sure the core was completely out of commission. Filma, after checking the surroundings for any new threats, looked at the core and nodded in agreement.
The rest of the party then caught up with them.
They had been wary of the other Red Core Pillars joining in the fray, but maybe because of the distance, or because they never intended to, they did not show any movements.
“Should we go on like this?”
“No, there are many of these pillars ahead, and it’s almost evening. Judging from their position, we might need the whole night to get past them. Let’s retreat for now, find a place to spend the night.”
Shin’s gut told him that the real fighting had yet to begin. Based on the monsters’ position, they clearly focused on defense.
The party still had plenty of energy left, but they also had been running since early morning.
They didn’t know what would await in the Sacred Place, so they wanted to face it in the best possible condition.
“There is a risk to give the enemy leeway to fortify their defenses, though.”
Shibaid agreed that Shin made a reasonable point, but voiced his concerns nonetheless.
The enemy surely already knew that someone capable of obliterating their defensive forces had appeared. They would surely bolster their defenses as much as they could.
“There’s still a long way till the Sacred Place, though. Even if we go now, they’ll have enough time to reinforce their defenses, don’t you think?”
Both opinions had an ounce of truth to them.
Sety, however, said that the Sacred Place was still quite far: the distance they had covered from the sea of trees until the current position was roughly two-thirds of the way until Number 43’s Sacred Place.
Even if they pushed ahead without resting, they still had several hours to run before they reached their destination.
“Hmm, I suppose we should not push ourselves so much.”
Shibaid looked in the direction of the Sacred Place and whispered.
After a brief discussion and exchange of opinions, the party decided to retreat for the time being and rest for the night.
Shin had something on his mind: after dinner, he left Tsuki no Hokora to go talk with Shibaid.
“You seem a bit restless.”
“…that might be.”
When Shin opened the door, Filma and Shibaid’s voices reached his ears.
“There might be new monsters spawning on the continent, after all. The wall should be up by now, but you can’t help but worry, right?”
Shibaid could not deny Filma’s claims.
Of the three hordes of monsters that appeared on the continent, two had been exterminated by Shin. The other had returned to the island with the party. It could be said that the situation was not a dangerous one anymore.
Monsters could spawn for causes other than the Guardians’ intentions, however. There was also the suspicious absence of Wolfreet: the monster had not shown itself once after its first appearance.
Shibaid wished to take care of the current matter as quickly as possible and make sure monsters did not invade the continent anymore: he couldn’t help but feel anxious.
“We should trust in them, the people who protected the continent from the monsters all this time. They might not be as strong as us, but they aren’t weak at all, are they?”
“Indeed…hah, it seems I have grown more apprehensive with age.”
“Hey, if you put it like that you’re talking about me too!!”
Filma pouted and the mood changed.
Shin quietly slipped back inside Tsuki no Hokora, acknowledging there was no need for his assistance anymore.